wood vs. steel vs. fiberglass sailboat hulls

Discussion in 'Boat Design' started by Petros, Nov 14, 2007.

  1. Petros
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    Petros Senior Member

    I recently read an article about a historic around the world race in 1968-69. The author said something that does not make sense to me. There were all three types of hulls entered in this race of various configurations (monohull, cats and a tri). The author seems to think that the only design suitable for this race was the steel hull, implying that the all wood hulls were not suited to deep water racing.

    Is this just an ignorant opinion or is there a general feeling among boat owners that all wood sailboats are not suited to deep water, long distance sailing? I have never heard this before and considering all of the very nicely design wood boats that have been around for so long, I thought is was just ignorance. There are no doubt designs that are unsuited to long distance sailing, but that would have nothing to do with the hull material.

    Besides the higher maintenance, are there any disadvantage to long distance sailing in wood boats? It seems to me they are easier to repair with simple hand tools in remote areas better than the other types.

    What do you "experts" think?
  2. Gilbert
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    Gilbert Senior Member

    As you probably know they all have their plusses and minusses.
    The people I have usually heard claiming steel is THE way to go like to talk about how strong it is.
    Those who advocate wood are most often thinking in terms of modest sized boats where wood has some real virtues.
    I would say that the bigger your vessel is the better off you are going with steel. And the smaller your vessel is the better off you are going with wood.
    If you are a first class metal worker then I think you should go with steel anyway. And if you are a first class wood worker you should go with wood anyway.
    One of the issues with wood is the lack of availability of high quality material at a reasonable cost. Some of the modern wood composite types of construction moderate this to some extent, but the material cost is still substantial because of the use of epoxies and cloth sheathing and such.
  3. kerosene
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    kerosene Senior Member

    in terms of repairs steel is pretty good any distant location will have "village welder" -dudes around.

    Also it is very strong in terms of hitting a reef etc.
  4. Ike
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    Ike Senior Member

    This is one of those, "which is better, Chevy or Ford" questions.

    The answer is neither.

    Think about it. People have been sailing around the world for hundreds of years in wood boats

    People have been sailing around the world for about 160 years in metal boats.

    And people have been sailing around the world for about 50 years in fiberglass boats.

    In other words, they all work.

    As was said each has it's pluses and minuses. It all depends on what the designer wants to achieve and how they want to acheive it. All three can do the job. It's more a matter of personal preference than anything else.
    1 person likes this.
  5. waikikin
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    waikikin Senior Member

    Petros, I just read a book about that race, if the result counts - a traditionaly planked wood boat was the winner & the only boat to finish, the steel boat didnt finish coz her skipper decided a race back to the original starting point made no sense to him so sailed on philisohically to beautiful Tahiti to enjoy himself more, he had an pretty even chance at winning till then, all the other boats either retired, broke or sunk & one dood kinda pretended to sail around & is presumed to have fallen over or suicided
    I reckon all materials are worthy of this kind of adventure but construction must be to a high standard & seamanship plays a most vital role as well as does the mental toughness required of long ocean voyages of this kind. All the best from Jeff.:)
  6. ted655
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    ted655 Senior Member

    First you have to define the terms. Then the chaise of materials makes more sense. I doubt you'll see steel racing for the America's Cup. And you wont see "those" boats heading for a round the world race, where upwind performance & acceleration is not the important factor.
    Wooden Clippers still hold records that have not been matched.
    No room for generalities or blanket statements in this question. It turns real "apples & oranges" fast. A "production", entry level fiberglass boat for blue water? Forget it! Winning a club regatta? Maybe. A spruce planked world cruiser? Nope. A Bahama day sailer? Certainly
    There is a lid for every pot but to name the best chief they have to all cook the same meal.
  7. Man Overboard
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    Man Overboard Tom Fugate

    Here is a good article that may shed some light on just how much of an advantage one building material has over another especially in regards to price verses performance. The four materials that were compared were: carbon fiber composite construction (Core Cell core), aluminum, fiberglass, and wood core composite. Steel was not in the comparison. Aluminum was shown to be quite expensive(all things considered) with negligeble performances gains. Surprisingly, wood core composite construction was shown to be the least expensive while performance suffered by only 2 or 3 percent compared to carbon or aluminum.

    The article probably applies more specifically to one off performance cruisers.

    The opening paragraph of the article:

    Article Download:
    http://www.hiswasymposium.com/pdf/2006/H. Balasz.pdf
  8. Petros
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    Petros Senior Member

    thanks, I will read the article. Though one of my main questions was not answered: is it common for contemporary sailboat owners to consider wood boats infirior and unsuited to deep water sailing? And is this simply ignorance?

    I suspect it is. there are of course practical limits to building wood boats, but I would think for hulls under 40 ft or so it is still a viable building material. As posted, people have been sailing wood boats around the world for hundreds of years and still do. As an engineer I know it is just a matter of deigning any structure to the capabilities (and limitations) of the materials you are working with. A badly designed hull in any material or poorly maintained would be a hazard to deep water sailing.

    I personally like working with wood the best, having used fiberglass and wood on boats, and having used aluminum and steel for other projects (and concrete and steel in others). Wood I think lends itself well to one-off construction, but is not well suited to production.

    I once did a comparison of materials for a homebuilt aircraft. An optimized wood structure has twice the stiffness to weight ratio as fiberglass. Structurally it out performs fiberglass, sheet aluminum structures, is on a par with alloy steel welded space frame (with light fabric skin), and only slightly worse than Kevlar (Carbon graphite is better, at MUCH higher costs). Wood easily has the best cost-to-performance of any construction material.

    Also, wood is mass produced by unskilled labor, non-toxic and able to be worked with common hand tools, and strong hulls (and airframes) can be built with minimal tooling or special processes.
  9. ted655
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    ted655 Senior Member

    The American buyer is less likrly to purchase wood. I read of many custom boats built in Turkey & Asia-Indonesia.
    Inferior in what way?
  10. jehardiman
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    jehardiman Senior Member

    IMHO it is not the owners ignorance but the owners lack of time commitment in the "modern" world. Modern composite boats are selected because they can "be ridden hard and put away wet". It will take a decade or two of abuse and lack maintanence to significantly damage/sink most modern glass production boats. A wood boat is a monthly comitment. In todays modern commodity driven world, it is personal time that is valued over the cost, especially here in the US. I almost want to call this the "sport boat" effect; where hundreds of relatively cheap glass class boats were pumped out to give weekend sailers a venue that would be quick and relatuively maintaince free. Disposable. A quick survey of the average sail regatta scene throughout the US shows that the "leave the pier at 0900 and be in the bar by 1500" predominates. Look at the reduction in starters for the long distance races throughout the 70's to 90's (though this is changing recently as more boomers retire).

    Additionally, this lack of commitment meant that may good wooden boats suffered from neglect which was then reflected in resale and insurance prices, so it kind of self perpetuates. If you want to be compensated when selling for your time and material you spent in maintaing your woodie, very few people could afford them. Where as "5 guys and a Binks gun" can spit out a brand new glass hull that will last for 40 years every day.

  11. colinstone
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    colinstone Junior Member

    I like steel, but I am talking about bigger boats. As pointed out it is easily repairable and pretty durable. Good for one offs. As an amateur builder and boat outfitter I also like steel as I can weld it after a fashion - my inverter welder is smaller than a shoe box - and then grind it to the finish I want. I cannot do that with wood - mis cut and it is the bin or any of the more fancy plastic composites.
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